March 1st, 2020

Matthew 4:1-11

Pastor Jenny Lee, Ph.D.

Upper St. Croix Parish UMC

 The Wilderness, God Dwells With Us

Today’s scripture shows us the temptation of Jesus Christ in the wilderness. The wilderness was where Israelites wandered to seek the Promised Land for forty years. The wilderness is where we are living in to seek the kin(g)dom of God in our faithful journey. In other words, The wilderness could be in the world we live.

The scripture begins, “Then, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” You may wonder why the Spirit led Jesus to be tempted by the devil.  We are exposed to temptation all the time in the world, and he may teach us how the devil comes to us to tempt and how we have to defend.

First of all, when we think we are ready, and that we deserve it, the temptation may come to us using our strengths or abilities. In other words, testing comes to us at our points of power or ability, urging us to use those powers for our self-aggrandizement. Today’s scripture is following the baptism of Jesus and the divine manifestations of his Son-ship immediately. Jesus lived in hardship as the head of a household in a rural area, Nazareth about for thirty years. Finally, he showed up his identity to people as the Son of God. He was baptized and ready for the public ministry. When the Baptist John baptized Jesus, “heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “this is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). So, we may think that he is ready to go for the public ministry, but no not yet. “Then, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. The word “then” indicates at the moment after his baptism, and when you may think that you are ready. The Scripture 1 Peter says, “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  The tempter knew that Jesus is the Son of God and he is ready for the ministry. Therefore, the tempter says, “if you are the Son of God.”  Sometimes we also think that we are ready for the ministry because we are Christians. But, the tempter may tempt us, saying, “if you are a Christian.” Among the trifold of temptations, the tempter says twice, that “if you are the Son of God:” “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (4:3). “If you are the Son of God, threw yourself down”(4:6).

Jesus is the Son of God, so he could command the stones to become loaves of bread. However, he did not do it. On occasions of spiritual blessing, we are tested as to whether we will use spiritual privilege for the will of God and the glory of God or our own self-interests. Even though you can do it, if you do not do it for God’s ministry is that it can be called “self-control.” Jesus on the Cross was tempted by the devil through people. “If you are the Son of God, Come down from the Cross” (Matthew 27:40). However, Jesus was patient for God’s ministry even though he could come down from the Cross. So, self-control is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. When we face circumstances to be upset enough, if we do not upset about the case or the people, it is self-control given by the grace of God.

The second temptation shows us that the tempter may come to us when we are weak, and when we are vulnerable. “[Jesus] fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished” (4:2). Have you ever fasted for three days or more days? If you fasted for a few days, most food might look so delicious for you, even though you are picky for food. Jesus fasted for forty days and nights.  Imagine how he felt hungry. All stones in the wilderness might look like loaves of bread for him.

Many believers often fast for spiritual strength. However, after fasting, they face a risk to sick or die because it is hard to control to eat food after fasting for forty days. Like this, when we become weak, it is hard to control something. At that moment the tempter may come to us in our weakness and vulnerabilities, whispering, “For you are the sinner; for you are an alcohol/ drug addict; for you are a woman, for you are poor; for you are the least; for you are an immigrant; for you are sick; for you are old and so on.” However, God says to us; you are weak; nevertheless, you can make it because God is there for you. Jesus defended the devil using the Word of God. The Word of God is the tool to overcome the temptation.  Remember, God created us in the image of God with the Word of God. Therefore, we have to connect with God and the Word of God. God is righteous and just, so sin and temptation never exist on God.

The last test of Jesus focused directly on Jesus’ ultimate mission. He had come to seek and to save the lost, and to reconcile people to God. However, the temptation distorts to go an easy way, not to go to the way of the Cross. “All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me”(4:9). The word “all these things” is “all the kin(g)doms of the world and their spender,” which Satan showed Jesus. Jesus will get all things after he died on the Cross and risen from death. The devil knew that Jesus’s goal of the mission is going to the way of the Cross. The way of the Cross is the way of suffering, pains, and loneness. But, the devil distored that Jesus can get all things without suffering from the Cross and attracted Jesus to take a short cut and an easy way to win the world. Without the Cross, there is no salvation of the people even though Jesus gets all the things. Jesus knew that he could not defeat evil by compromising with evil. Jesus decided to be faithful to God and his calling to follow the way of the Cross. Finally, Jesus won from the test, saying, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him.” “Then, the devil left him” (4:11). But his temptation is not ended up there. Many temptations came to him until he fulfilled all his missions.

While we live in a world like the wilderness, many temptations may come to us in many ways. However, the wilderness is where God dwells with us. The Word of God Jesus used was from the scripture Deuteronomy. The scripture Deuteronomy is that God gave the Word to Israelite through Moses when they were in the wilderness to seek the Promised Land. Jesus showed us that he defended all the temptations with the Word of God in the wilderness. We may use the Word of God to defend the temptation while we live in the world, as did Jesus. The temptation may come to us with the material/economical, spiritual, and the political ways. We may fail all the time. But, remember that Jesus succeeds all the time. We are sinful, but Jesus is not sinful.

The Good News is that Jesus is always ready to take our plates even though we face the sinful crisis and temptation all the time. That’s why Jesus died on the Cross even though he did not sin at all. He was punished on the Cross only for us, for our sinfulness. The Scripture Hebrews says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). The Temptation of Jesus Christ and his victory authenticates his person for our faith, assures our freedom about the tempter, and affirms God’s acceptance of his atoning work.  Jesus did not die on the Cross for his own sins but for ours. God is here in the wilderness where we live. So, I encourage you; stand on your faith boldly in Jesus Christ, connecting with God, the Word of God.   Thank be to God! Amen.